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A Guide to Hiring Grocery Store Employees in 2021

Grocery Store Hiring Image

Grocery stores have been doubling down on their hiring efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because they are essential businesses, staying open during even the strictest of lockdowns, working conditions at supermarkets and other food retailers have been a hot topic.

While both grocery stores and convenience stores have plentiful employment opportunities in times of crisis, candidates might be discouraged from applying for the jobs they offer. And with grocery turnover hovering somewhere around 60%, hiring is only half the battle – as you’ll also need to look for candidates who will stick around. So, how exactly can you succeed?

What’s in?

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What are the challenges of grocery store hiring?

Hiring grocery store workers presents a number of unique challenges, which can make it very difficult for employers to compete with other industries to appeal to potential candidates. Some of the top challenges are:

Industry perceived as not very appealing

Robert Paul Jones, associate professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Tyler (UTT), explained it best when he said “the industry doesn’t do a lot to make itself attractive.” For the most part, grocery stores are not seen as particularly innovative or pleasant to work at—especially for candidates who are out of college and looking for a more stable gig with a clear career trajectory.

Plus, besides a potential lack growth opportunities, grocery stores may not have a positive work environment where employees want to be. “From lack of personal interaction with applicants to broken or unkempt application kiosks, retailers don’t roll out the welcome mat for new hires,” said Harold Lloyd, president of a grocery consultancy firm that specializes in helping grocers achieve supermarket success.

Long working hours and low pay

Grocery stores often have extensive open hours and employees are expected to work during the evening, over the weekend, and even on holidays. In addition to less than desirable working hours, employees are often required to work 8-hour shifts or longer, which can be off-putting to some candidates. Since it requires a lot of standing, walking, and even some heavy lifting, the job can be quite physically demanding—and the pay certainly doesn’t make up for it.

Many grocery store employees make just around minimum wage and do not reap rewards such as insurance benefits, paid time off (PTO), and other perks that can help make a role more attractive. Raises and bonuses can also be very hard to come by. As a result, it’s often really hard to attract new supermarket employees, and even harder for employers to retain them.

Safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has brought a lot of employee safety concerns into the lime light, particularly for grocery store’s employing mainly essential workers during the global health crisis. Candidates might be scared about being exposed to the virus, as well as interacting with customers who are unwilling to comply with required safety rules, such as maintaining a safe social distance, adhering to sanitization protocols, and wearing a mask inside of the store.

… which means it is more challenging than ever to attract candidates to roles with frequent customer contact.

How do you successfully hire grocery store employees?

Challenges aside, you can successfully hire grocery store employees with the right strategy in place. Here are some key tips and tricks to help you navigate the process:

1. Source local candidates

Get creative with sourcing local candidates to apply for open roles—and not via a form to fill in at the supermarket. For example, you can take advantage of local job boards, Facebook groups, and LinkedIn groups to each potential candidate. You can also utilize specialty job boards to target those looking for grocery store roles, such as CareersInGrocery.com and GroceryCareer.org.

You can get even craftier with your sourcing strategy by embracing technology and letting your candidates scan a QR code or message you their details on a chat application like WhatsApp or Telegram. Also, you should make it a point to allow your candidates to apply to multiple store locations at once, as this can help you best determine where they’re most needed within your area.

2. Look for customer orientation

Great employees create a positive, friendly atmosphere at your stores. You need customer-oriented, helpful grocery store workers to make your customers come back to your store. According to a study by the Coca-Cola Retail Research Council North America, retailers should seek out applicants with “emotional stability, optimism, self-efficacy, openness and who express conscientiousness.” The reason why is clear, with upwards of 68% of American shoppers attributing a positive shopping experience to the help of pleasant store employees.

Finding and hiring such grocery store employees comes down to the selection process, which is the best opportunity to vet whether a candidate is a good fit for your business. You can do this by starting with a personality questionnaire to help you get to know the candidate and identify whether they have the right disposition and potential to succeed in a grocery store role. Also, take the chance to ask specific interview questions that will reveal desirable characteristics (or a lack thereof). 

Examples of personality-specific interview questions to ask:

  • What does good customer service look like to you?
  • How would you handle a difficult customer?
  • Do you enjoy a social work environment?
  • What strengths can you bring to the table?

In order for grocery store employees to be successful, they need to be able to work well with others. That’s why you need people who are team players and always ready to give a helping hand to their colleagues and customers. They should also have decent interpersonal skills, as they’ll be required to consistently interact with both other supermarket employees and customers in the store.

You can ask teamwork-focused interview questions to determine how well potential employees work with others. For example, you might ask, “how do you feel working in a team environment?” or “what enables a team to function successfully?” Asking these questions during the interview stage will ensure you assemble a team that’s ready and willing to join forces for the success of the business.  

A great way to assess whether a candidate is likely to stay with your company is to let them try out the job first. There are a few different ways to approach this. One option is to use a video-based situational judgement test, a popular behavioral assessment tool that presents candidates with realistic scenarios that are related to the responsibilities, activities, and challenges associated with the job in question.

5. Prepare a hiring compliance checklist

Once you decide to hire someone for a grocery store role, you need to put all of the appropriate legal matters in order before they start. It’s useful to create a hiring compliance checklist with all the forms and other necessary documents that need to be filled out to ensure you cover all your bases from both a legal and regulatory perspective.

Before you continue!

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6. Improve your retail onboarding process

Your new grocery store employees will need proper onboarding and training to be able to work productively, even if they only work seasonally or for a few hours a week. For example, let your new employees shadow the more experienced ones and then work under their supervision. Good onboarding will help you reduce early turnover, make sure new grocery store employees are comfortable with basic responsibilities, and have their questions answered.

7. Create a positive work environment

You want to do everything you can to attract job candidates and keep them coming back, right? That said, even your best efforts will be in vain if the grocery store is a toxic work environment. Plus, creating a positive experience for shoppers starts with creating one for your employees. After all, if your employees don’t want to be there (and that sentiment shows), then why would your customers?

What’s next?

Working at a grocery store can be both physically demanding and mentally exhausting—especially during this time period, where there’s a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job. That’s why getting people to work for you (and stick it out indefinitely) isn’t an easy feat. With that being said, it’s not impossible with the right approach.

By doing everything you can to create a positive work environment and have a streamlined candidate selection process in place, you can attract and hire grocery store employees who’ll stick with your business, collaborate with colleagues, and offer exceptional customer services that keeps people coming back to shop in your store.

Ready to transform your hiring process?



Heather Bates is an experienced writer with a focus on HR, recruitment, and tech-related topics. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her taking photos, wire-wrapping crystals, and/or drinking iced coffee.

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